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Cave Creek Loop hike (Cave creek trail and Skunk Tank trail)

crossing Cave Creek
Cave Creek
Cave Creek loop hike
Cave Creek loop hike
Cave Creek loop hike trail
Cave Creek loop hike trail
crossing Cave creek
desert wildflowers along the Cave Creek loop hike trail
map: Cave Creek loop hike trail
Elevation plot: Cave Creek loop hike trail


How to Get There
This hike is located near Carefree, AZ.

To get to the trailhead: from the Phoenix/Mesa area, take HWY-101 North to the Pima Road exit. Take Pima road North to Cave Creek Road. Turn East (Right) on Cave Creek Road. Soon, there will be a Tonto National Forest sign on the right (This is about 6 miles from Carefree). From this point, this road becomes FR 24. Continue 12.2 miles from the Tonto National Forest sign to the Cave Creek Trailhead parking area (next to the campground). FR 24 is graded dirt and passable to all vehicles, although you might want to leave that new Mercedes in your garage. As of April, 2013, this area requires a Tonto pass, which costs $6 and is available throughout the Phoenix area.
cave creek
Phoenix Area and Central Arizona

Hike details

10.20 [Miles] Total
Hike Distance- Details
The loop hike described is 10.2 miles round trip.
4.50 [Hours]
It took us 4.5 hours of hiking, with a short break for snacks.
Elevation Change
1,600 Total gain/loss [Feet]
Elevation Details
about 1600 ft total gain.
Hike Trail Type
Lollypop Loop
Special Features
  • Water
  • Wild Flowers


Best Season
  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • October
  • November
  • December
Worst Season
  • July
  • August
Season Details
This hike is especially nice in the spring, when the wildflowers are blooming, or the fall when the leaves are changing color.
Date Hike completed
April 02, 2013


Solitude Details
Pretty good, especially considering the close proximity to the Phoenix area. Solitude is better on the Skunk Tank Trail return leg. Expect to see 10-25 other hikers during the course of the day.


Difficulty Rating
difficulty detail
Walking along water in the central deserts of Arizona is always a treat. The climb halfway through the hike to views of the area were an added bonus. This hike is rated Moderate.


Permit Info
$6 Tonto pass required to park (as of April 2013)
Be Aware of
Fee for parking, some creek crossings.

Hike the Cave Creek Loop made up by Cave Creek trail and Skunk Tank trail near Phoenix, Arizona.

The hike starts at the Cave Creek Trailhead parking area. The trail starts south, passing the campgrounds and an access road before it reaches Cave Creek 0.5 miles from the parking area. For the loop hike described, head South along the Cave Creek Trail #4.   

This trail follows the creek, even crossing it a few times. The walking here is mostly flat and pleasant. This is one of those rare locations in Arizona where water flows year round, and the surrounding vegetation is reflective of that. Impressive shade trees including Walnut, Ash, and Sycamore shade the hiker on this trail. There are also some good photo opportunities here, so bring your camera. You'll pass a trail junction sign for the Skunk Tank trail (Jct 1R on the map). Continue straight here, following the creek.

After about 4.0 miles of hiking on the Cave Creek Trail, the trail crosses the creek for the final time and you reach the signed junction of the Cave Creek Trail and the Skunk Tank Trail (Jct 2L on the map). Be alert here, as the Cave Creek Trail continues for a total of 10.5 miles and you could miss the creek crossing if you aren't looking for it. The junction of the Cave Creek Trail and Skunk Tank Trail is well marked. Once on the Skunk Tank trail, the trail quickly switchbacks up one side of Skunk Tank Canyon. The total elevation gain of this hike is in the next 1.5 miles of this trail. As the trail goes higher, you are greeted with more and more views of the surrounding desert. Now the vegetation turns to the more traditional desert cacti of Saguaro and Cholla. Eventually, you'll pass signed Skunk Tank, which is a brackish oasis. This is a particularly colorful area to hike through during the spring wildflower season.

After about 2.5 miles on the Skunk Tank Trail, you reach the signed intersection of the Quien Sabe Trail (Jct 3L on the map). Stay left and continue on the Skunk Tank trail, which now becomes an old mining road. The walk begins to lose the elevation that was gained earlier as you get closer and closer to Cave Creek. The trail ends 2.3 miles later at the signed junction with the Cottonwood Creek Trail (Jct 4L on map). Turn left on this trail to get back to the creek and follow the Cave Creek trail back to the parking area.


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